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Can a Democrat take on Larry Hogan on economic development?

Economic development is Larry Hogan’s brand. It was the key issue in his campaign for governor four years ago, and if his first campaign commercial is any indication, the notion that Maryland was in the doldrums before he came along and is humming now will be central to his re-election effort. Polling tends to suggest that voters are persuaded; he consistently gets good marks for his handling of the economy.

So, are the Democrats seeking to challenge him ceding the issue? No way. Attorney Jim Shea, the former head of the Venable law firm, says he’ll put his business record up against Governor Hogan’s any time, and he has mounted an extensive critique of the state’s economic growth compared to other states during the Hogan years.

Former Montgomery County councilwoman Valerie Ervin regularly blasts the governor for pledging up to $8 billion in economic incentives for “the richest man in the world” — Jeff Bezos — to lure Amazon.com’s second headquarters to the state.

Former NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous touts his experience as a venture capitalist helping nurture tech companies and his work as a civil rights advocate on issues of economic inequality.

State Sen. Richard Madaleno points to his record of fighting to help workers in the legislature through efforts to provide paid sick leave (successful) and raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour (so far, not).

Former Obama administration official Krish Vignarajah promises to create 250,000 good-paying private sector jobs.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker focuses his message on the economic turnaround of his county.

And although all of the Democrats are focused on inequality in Marylanders’ economic prospects, that issue is the raison d’etre of author/entrepreneur Alec Ross’ campaign. The first words out of his mouth when he introduces himself are “talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not.”

Who’s the best on this issue? It depends on your priorities.

If your focus is on enacting worker-friendly policies like a $15 minimum wage, Messrs. Jealous and Madaleno are the best bets. Mr. Madaleno has an edge on the inside game of corralling the votes to get an ambitious policy proposal through the General Assembly, having done so on a wide variety of issues in the past. Mr. Jealous has the experience in organizing a grassroots coalition to help make the political climate more favorable to such an action, and he’s done that before in Maryland and elsewhere.

For family-friendly economic policies, look to Ms. Vignarajah. She backs three months of paid family leave for all Marylanders and promises to end the gender pay gap in state government while pushing businesses to do the same — and she argues that both would benefit the state’s economy.

Mr. Shea offers three pieces of highly relevant experience beyond his success in building Venable. His time as chairman of the University System Board of Regents gave him insight into Maryland's struggles to translate its research innovations into commercial activity. His long-time advocacy for transit gives him a passion for solving the problem of access to jobs, particularly for those who can’t afford cars. And his leadership of Baltimore’s empowerment zones provides him with a sense of how tax incentives work (or don’t) and of the needs of entrepreneurs.

The candidate most clearly attuned to the changing nature of the global economy is Mr. Ross. He even wrote a best-selling book about it, “Industries of the Future,” and he has well developed ideas for how to reorient our educational systems — including for adults — to provide workers with the skills employers need.

Finally, if you want someone who has a real record of accomplishment in creating jobs as a government official, Mr. Baker is your man. The economic turnaround he oversaw in Prince George’s County is remarkable for the fact that it didn’t involve luring a big company (indeed, his most prominent effort to do so, a long-time wooing of the Department of Justice to build a new FBI headquarters there, was scuttled by the Trump administration, due to no fault of Mr. Baker’s). Rather, he and his excellent economic development team executed the basics. Coming off a pay-to-play scandal that sent his predecessor to jail, Mr. Baker established clear, predictable incentives and regulations, encouraged development around transit sites and made smart investments in infrastructure.

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